Lent 3: re-imagining the church

Lent3: Re-imagining the church   John 4:5-42

We re-imagine the Church intentionally connecting and engaging with our local communities in culturally relevant ways. We will rejoice in the richness of the “mixed economy” of all ministry and proactively promote vibrant parochial and breathtaking pioneering ministries amongst ‘missing’ generations, eg children, young people, under 35s.

http://www.winchester.anglican.org/diocesan-life/strategic-priorities/

We’ve all seen the headlines! “Church attendance is on the decline”,  C of E on its last legs, Religion is dead, no one cares..

People are more likely to put Jedi Knight as their religion on the census form than turn to up church week in week out…

people just don’t walk through the doors any more in the way they used to, perhaps in the way we think they should?

Is it true? well yes, this is what the stats  tell us,  –

There are a few exceptions of course, in terms of Sunday mornings, big churches, often in cities, but elsewhere the numbers are sliding, slowly but surely away from traditional Sunday morning church attendance.

Why is it?  It’s certainly tempting to see it as “their” problem. We’ve not changed, here we are still in church, they know where we are, we’ve not moved.

But maybe if we think about it, maybe that’s the problem.

We know how busy life is, we’ve all said “well the children all play sport on Sundays now…” and we bemoan Sunday opening and the fact that everyone is shopping and going out just as on any other day of the week.

What is it we’re mourning?  Is it full churches, families doing things together?  Is it simply the past, or is it the fact that so many people have no idea about who God is and the transformation he can bring to lives?

Maybe, just maybe if there’s even a little of the latter its time not to wonder why  people don’t come to church but to wonder what we can do to make church different, to take church out of its walls,  to break open its musty hymn book image and bring the message of the Kingdom to those around us.

To re-imagine the church.

Our second Diocesan priority says we aim to be a diocese   that re-imagines church. Church is not just the stones and tiles of this building, church is us, church is the meeting of people following Jesus, and church can be all sorts of things.

Reimagining church doesn’t mean to start with that we go all modern & trendy, in the worst sort of stereotypical ways!

Re imagining the church is not just rearranging the furniture, and painting the walls – though it can be part of it.

Reimagining the church is about understanding what will bring the message of Jesus to the people who live and work and spend their free time in our community, its working out how we bring that message best to those who might otherwise not hear it. It’s doing things well and doing things differently. Whether that is Choral Evensong, done amazingly or Messy church after school. It could be coffee & chat & bible study for young parents, or a coffee shop drop-in for teenagers. It might be a band leading worship on a Saturday night or a quiet 8am communion with breakfast served afterwards.

The areas of church life where there is growth are areas where things are being done differently, Fresh expressions of all sorts, new thinking, willingness to change…

In our reading this morning Jesus says to the disciples “look around you and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting”

The workers go out to the fields to harvest, they don’t wait for the fields to come to them, they use the methods that will work according to what crops they are growing.

As we reimagine church we know that we cannot do everything ourselves, no one community can, and so we need too to listen to Jesus’ words, “one sows and another reaps”

We work together, in our community, in our deanery, in our diocese, across the world,

As church communities often our role, our place is to grow those who go out, – many of those being trained and ordained at the moment are what are known as pioneer ministers, they have a calling to do church differently. To set up meeting places and talking places where people gather, to give people who would never cross the step of a church building the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus, to build community  and church outside of the structures we know & love, but they cannot do that without support, without prayer, without traditional church working with them,

None of this is either or, it’s both and.

Last week’s Gospel was about Nicodemus, who came to Jesus… today’s is about the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus went out to meet.

Here are two models for us, meeting people, who come to us, who ask; who follow this more traditional model, Nicodemus was establishment – a Pharisee, an example perhaps of tradition.

And the Samaritan women, the misfit, the outcast, whom Jesus met where she was, something different, something unusual.

For all of us though whether working with traditional inherited models of church or pioneering new ways of being, we should remember two main points from today’s gospel

Firstly, Church is inclusive not exclusive

When Jesus met the woman at the well all traditions and rules stated that he should keep well away, not talk to her, she was a woman, and probably not well respected given that she was at the well at midday, not with the other women,

And she was a Samaritan, with whom Jews did not communicate

Jesus ignored all that and spoke to her needs, into her heart he included her, he welcomed her despite her background and her reputation.

We too need to do that in our churches and in our pioneering. We need to include those we might shy away from, the unlovely and the marginalised, -this is what the Kingdom is, and this is what church is…

It can be uncomfortable, it can make us vulnerable, but welcoming and loving everyone we meet in the name of Jesus is what we need to be about in being church together.

Secondly we need to remember that where we worship and how we worship is less important than the why and the who.

The Samaritan woman questioned Jesus, as Jews & Samaritans believed that different places (the mountain, and Jerusalem
) were the “right” place to worship. Jesus tells her that true worshipers worship the father in Spirit and in truth.

We all have ways & styles of worship we prefer, and that’s fine, but we must not let those crowd out why we are worshipping  at all and of course who are we worshipping –  it is easy to get bogged down it the “ right” way of doing something, and for that to distract us from the main point. Jesus is clear that it is our relationship in the Spirit with God that is important. It is that encounter that will transform us, and renew us, and those around us. That process of being born again of the spirit, day by day, week by week.

Reimagining church is a challenge, It’s not all about what we do, but why, and just as the Samaritan woman went back to spread the good news in her community, out of that transformation of each of us comes the transformation of our church life and the community around us as we reach out to them, as we do what we do in the power of Gods spirit, and to his Glory

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